Hibiscus , the rose mallow, a genus of mal-vaceoe, the mallow family, which differs from the common representatives of that family in having its fruit a pod, which is five-celled, and at maturity splits through the five valves without leaving a central axis. The flowers, which are large and showy, have the general structure peculiar to the order, as in the single hollyhock; immediately beneath the calyx is an involucre of numerous narrow bracts. The genus includes about 150 species of herbs, shrubs, and even trees, and is more abundant in tropical than temperate climates. The name is an ancient one of obscure meaning. The most common native species along the Atlantic coast is H. Moscheutos, the swamp rose mallow, which is often very abundant in brackish marshes and along rivers far beyond the reach of salt water; it is also found inland in the vicinity of salt springs. As it grows from 4 to 7 ft. high, and has numerous pink (rarely white) blossoms 5 or 6 in. across, it is one of the most noticeable of midsummer flowers. The three-lobed leaves are downy and soft to the touch. This is an herbaceous species, sometimes cultivated in gardens, and by nurserymen under the name of H. palustris.
Like other plants of the family, this has a strong fibrous inner bark, and about ten years ago there was an attempt at speculating in the seeds and plants at high prices under the name of American jute. It was asserted that it could bo profitably cultivated for its fibre, which was said to be as valuable as jute; but it has not yet found a place among the fibres of commerce. H. grandiflorits, with flowers a foot wide, H. militarise with halberd-shaped leaves, and H. coccineus, with large bright scarlet flowers, are among the tall-growing native species found in the southern states. H. trionum, the bladder-ketmia or flower-ofan-hour, a smaller European species, has sulphur-yellow flowers with a blackish eye, and was formerly cultivated in gardens, where it became naturalized and now remains as a weed. H. esculentus is cultivated for its edible pods. (See Okra.) The best known of the shrubby species is H. Syriacus, which was introduced into cultivation from the Levant over two centuries ago. It is known in gardens and nursery catalogues as the shrubby althaea, the old name for it being althoea frutex; it is also called rose of Sharon, a name that appears to be peculiar to this country.
If left to itself, this will form a tall unshapely shrub 10 ft. or more high, with long swaying branches; it is usually kept closely pruned, and when cut back severely produces a profusion of flowers, which are like those of the hollyhock, but smaller; there are double varieties, which, as well as the single, range in color from white to deep purple. As it blooms late in summer, will grow in almost any soil, and presents such a great variety in its flowers, it is justly regarded as one of the most valuable ornamental shrubs. There is a variety with its leaves distinctly margined with white, but it does not flower freely. Two woody species are found in Florida: H. Floridanus, 4 or 5 ft. high, and H. tiliaceus, a large tree. Some of the greenhouse species are very showy, the most common of which is II. rosa Sinensis, the rose of China; it is from the East Indies, where its brilliant scarlet flowers are used to black shoes; there are white, purple, rose-colored, and other varieties of it.
Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus Syriacus).